Badlands National Park


In 1981 the scientific community received astonishing news. Black-footed ferrets, thought to have become extinct since the last captive specimen died in 1979, were discovered to be alive and well in the wilds of Wyoming. The news was encouraging, but the long-term prognosis for the ferrets was not promising. Dependent on prairies as their prime habitat and prairie dogs as their food source, these relatives of the weasel remain the rarest mammals on Earth.

Shrinking prairie habitat, destruction of prairie dog colonies by humans, and the spread of diseases had left the ferrets one step from the brink of extinction.

Soon after the Wyoming ferrets were discovered, disease ran through the colony. By 1985 only 18 ferrets survived. Braving controversy and accepting the risks accompanying intervention, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and State of Wyoming authorities captured the ferrets and launched a campaign to save them. A measure of success came quickly. At seven breeding facilities, the ferrets flourished and multiplied. With high hopes and little fanfare, 36 black-footed ferrets were released in the park during the fall of 1994. A search in late summer of 1995 yielded two litters of ferret kits, born in the wild, an important milestone on the road to recovery for this species. Additional captive-raised black-footed ferrets will be released through 1998 with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining population. Like the reintroduced bison and bighorn sheep, the black-footed ferrets may again take their place and add their influence to the northern prairies.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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